Thursday, 31 May 2012

(Ahem) Winner of the 2012 MARTY Award

Well, that was a lovely evening at the Living Arts Centre. A room full of amazing, creative people, all learning about each other, and the energy in the atmosphere was rejuvenating. I think it's good for writers, who tend to be solitary folk, to get out and interact with humans once in a while. And such interesting humans they were tonight! I met a man who paints in 3-D (requiring 3-D glasses, I mean). I met a woman who captures vitally important social commentary photographs in such places as Sierra Leone. Our common passions immediately drew us together. I was humbled to be included in the midst of so many deeply dedicated and talented people. Kind people. Everyone sincerely wished the others well. We each wore different coloured badges to proclaim what category we had been nominated in. When you found someone wearing your same colour, you gravitated to them with open arms. You're wearing red? I'm wearing red. We're best friends!

I won the Established Literary Arts category. A beautiful handcast glass award to put on my bookshelves, made by local artists. Something I will treasure, not because of the win, but because of the beautiful people my mind now associates with it.

The MARTY Awards and No Little Black Dress

Tonight are the Mississauga Arts Council Awards at the Living Arts Centre. This is the third time I've been nominated in the Literary Arts category. The last two years I've skipped the awards ceremony, but this year I felt I should probably attend. It's a Red Carpet affair, with TV cameras and extensive media coverage to help promote my books. I admit it - I need the free publicity!

Which leaves the dilemma of what to wear. Ordinarily I couldn't care less about such things. But today I stare at my closet and draw a complete blank. The nicest thing I own is a black and white chequered skirt that - if in red - would look like a picnic cloth. With black blouse and plastic necklace, the whole ensemble cost $8 at Value Village. The rest of my closet consists of gardening clothes, knitting bags, and a shelf of books and binders. And my tap shoes, but we won't get into that.

I must be the least glamorous person I know. I imagine other nominees tonight will be wearing classic evening wear, glittery, glitzy, with heels. If I tried to wear something like that, I'd feel as awkward as a moose in a tutu. I don't have the aplomb, the figure, or the inclination to carry it off. I want to be myself. After all, isn't this award judging my writing? And isn't my writing a natural extension of myself? So the picnic cloth it is. If anyone asks, I'll tell them it's vintage Value Village - the ultimate in recycling, when you think about it. That's me, just doing my bit for the planet.

So I'm off to schmooze!

Maybe I'll take my knitting.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


I was reading through a back issue of Harrowsmith at the library and found an article identifying types of dairy cows and discussing how their milk differs. Instantly I was six years old again, in the back seat of the station wagon, listening to Mom extole the matchless quality of Jersey cream while we sped through the countryside. The snippet in the magazine overwhelmed me with a homesickness I didn't know I had.

Both of my parents come from farm families, and when Mom married Dad, she thought she was marrying a dairy farmer and would spend her life in the country. When Dad's interests changed, Mom ended up in suburbia as a math professor's wife. She adapted well and contented herself with a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and we had rabbits and horses (boarded down the road). But even as a child I sensed that, deep down, it wasn't quite enough for Mom. Every spring, she would take long drives in the countryside. It was like the pull of the moon on the ocean tides, I think. Something about springtime beckoned her to green, open spaces.

I would sit in the back seat on these rides, absorbing the view and something of what Mom was feeling, too. By the time I was ten, I could differentiate - as they zipped past the car window - Guernseys from Jerseys and oats from wheat. She would tell me about chasing the pigs when they got out, about how Longhorns can leap fences like deer. As I listened, a terrible longing would rise within me, a depth of feeling - of love - that I didn't understand or recognize as an echo of my mother's quiet yearning.

Somehow, without meaning to, I ended up living in the suburbs too, married to a man who thinks "wildlife" is pigeons. I have my vegetable garden, and I'm content on the whole. But I've inherited that farm-lust from my mother. Every spring I get that tug, the inexorable pull, to drive through the country. I roll down the windows and drink in the smell of damp, churned earth. There's a visceral need to let my eyes flow out over unstopped space. I tell my sons the advantage of one kind of milk cow over another - you never know when you might need to know. We play Name that Grain as we pass the fields. My kids probably think I'm crazy, but Mom would understand.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Rethinking Retirement

When you think about it, the way we have organized our working lives doesn’t make sense. We spend the time when we’re feeling our physical best locked away in cubicles and offices. We’re expected to be out of the home right when we’re at child-bearing age. And we’re not released until we feel too old and rickety to do much of anything. Right when our health begins to slide, we lose our employee medical benefits and insurance. In an ideal world, we should retire early, spend our 30s and 40s and maybe 50s enjoying our interests and families, while we still can, and then return to work when we’re old and feel like sitting down anyway.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Romance Novels and Other Drivel

I just sent off the final proof of my next book, which will come out in September. This one is historical fiction...well, I admit it's sort of a romance...set in 1870s Wyoming. But I still cringe when people call my books romance. I guess that's because romance has become so cliché and cookie-cutter, and I hate to think my writing is that.

I mean, is it just my perception, or is every romantic heroine twenty-two years old, petite, redheaded, and green eyed? Her name is always something like Saxony or Brandi and she's always a manager of an exotic travel agency or a personal buyer for someone fabulously wealthy. The hero is just as predictable - a high-power executive or SWAT team member or district attorney, with a shadowy past and a secret pain deep in his dark eyes. It goes without saying that he's 6'2", gorgeous, with a full head of hair, and he smells good.

Why can I never find a romance where the heroine is a cashier at Safeway and takes three tries to get into her nylons? Where the hero washes his white socks with his red shirt, and eats mac and cheese right out of the pot? Personally, I think we need to balance fantasy and glitter with some good ol' comforting reality. We need literature that doesn't leave us with a dissatisfied taste in our mouths. Literature that tells us we can have romance and happiness even if we're fifty-two and pudgy. Books that show us how to find love in our own lives instead of making us long for the unattainable. I worry sometimes that a generation of girls is growing up bombarded with images from books, TV, and movies that give them false expectations about what life and love are.

Maybe I'll start a line of geriatric romances, books that celebrate how much living the older folks still have left in them. I can see it now: "When their eyes met across the crowded cafeteria, Ernie was suddenly glad he'd put his teeth in that morning..."

Sunday, 20 May 2012

You know you're a mother when...

  • You're sitting in a high-power meeting at work and find a pacifier in your pocket.
  • You realize you own nothing that's "dry clean only."
  • You consider it decadent if you sleep in until six-thirty.
  • You find marbles in your garbage disposal.
  • Your fridge is full of plates with half-eaten jawbreakers on them.
  • You make your own birthday cake, light the candles, blow them out, and then serve everybody else first.
  • You can wear a Batman Band-Aid without humiliation.
  • You can cook, dress, tie shoes, drive, or change a diaper one handed. Or a combination of them at the same time (still one handed).
  • You go to lunch with your boss and tell him to eat his veggies.
  • You're given a choice between Royal Doulton and paper plates, and you choose the paper plates.
  • You can shower, do your face, teeth, and hair, and get dressed in under two minutes.
  • Your tax return is signed in green crayon.
  • You can peel potatoes with your eyes closed.
  • You can find a specific piece in a 30-pound bucket of Lego but you can't find your car keys in your own purse.
  • You throw a fancy dinner party and serve celery sticks with peanut butter on them as an hor d'oeuvre.
  • You have Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham memorized.
  • You know the birthdate, phone number, soccer schedule, and allergies of every kid in the 4th Grade but you can't remember your own PIN number.
  • You call the hospital emergency department and they recognize your voice.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

I wish I could make a living from my hobby

This is Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada, also known as Empire Day or Firecracker Day. To me, it's Gardening Day. This weekend marks the official "frost free" date when it's usually safe to start setting out your plants. I've been outside for the past nine hours, digging, hauling dirt, mulching, and planting. I'm muddy, sore, and sunburned, and ridiculously happy. I could do this every day. I wish I could quit my job and just muck around in the dirt for a living. While it keeps the family fed much of the year, it doesn't pay the bills, unfortunately, but it should. I think people should get to do what they love for a living.  Ah well.

So this is what I'm growing in the garden this year:

Beans: Blue Lake, Brockton, Mayflower, White Rice, Beka Brown, and Ireland Creek Annies.
(That's nothing. One year I planted 16 varieties. Such fun!)
Mint: peppermint, lime mint, and chocolate mint (Yes, there is such a thing. Isn't nature wonderful?)
Asparagus peas (which is not related to either asparagus or peas)
Radishes (which I don't like to eat, but they have lovely pink flowers)
Cabbage: red and green (the rabbits go for the green as a decoy and leave the red alone)
Kale: Green and Blue Scotch
Green Onions
Carrots (three kinds, can't recall the names)
Beets: Bull's Blood and Crapaudine
Blueberries: dwarf and regular
White Cucumbers
Lettuce, Spinach, Mesclun, and other assorted Greens
Swiss Chard
Tomatoes: beefsteak and cherry
Ground Cherries
Peppers (Bell): orange, red, and yellow - green is boring
Collective Farm Woman Melon (if anyone wants seeds, let me know - I have a zillion)
Pie Pumpkins
Russet Potatoes
Oats (don't laugh - one year I grew wheat)
And I'm planning to put in grapes as soon as my hubby finishes building the arbor.
There are a few assorted flowers scattered about, but for the most part the yard is entirely vegetables. Even some of the flowers I grow are edible. What can I say? It's all about the food!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Things That Defeat Me

  • The cereal box that keeps appearing on the counter, which I've put away three times already this morning.
  • Disentangling the drawstring of a hooded sweatshirt from the paddle in my washer.
  • Having to throw out a perfectly good glove whose only fault is that it doesn't have a mate. I mean, we don't do that to people, after all.
  • Wondering how my kid came home from school with only one boot. Did he not notice one foot was wet?
  • Easter and Halloween candy hidden in the closet with the promise to myself that I won't get into it before the holiday.
  • When I'm going through my performance appraisal at work and my boss asks where I see myself in five years. Do I have to answer honestly? Is it okay to say "Barefoot on a beach, far far from you"?
  • The little bowl of jelly beans on my co-worker's desk.
  • My son's Grade Eight math. I swear I've done this before. Why can't I remember it?
  • Bus time tables.
  • Small talk.
  • Figuring out how I got to work wearing two mismatched socks - neither of which is mine.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pet Food Conundrum

I know pets are a booming business, but until recently I had no idea there was such variety available in the world of dog and cat food. One company alone makes 91 brands. Are there really that many different recipes? Do we need that many?

I've come to the sad conclusion that dogs and cats around the continent are eating better than I am. They're snarfing chicken, duck, turkey, pork, lamb, beef, and tuna while millions of human beings around the world subsist on rice alone. I love animals, don't get me wrong, but it seems weird that I'm donating canned beans and Kraft Dinner to the food bank while Fluffy dines on duck with wild rice.

I hope my dog can't read or he'll figure out that he's been getting the cheap-o store brand stuff while all the other dogs on the block are getting roast lamb.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

First Grandchild

So much hope and happiness,
potential and joy,
love and longing,
so much history,
an accumulation of genetics,
the breath of your ancestors -
all reaching culmination
in this small, perfect body.
This weight of heritage,
this light, this future,
all resting in you.
No wonder you stretch and squirm so,
trying to contain it all.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

This morning I am getting on a teeny teeny plane and flying as far north as I've ever been. Whenever I hear the word "propeller" I immediately picture the balsa wood airplanes we used to wind up with rubber bands and fling down the staircase. My adventure this morning sounds just as flimsy and fruitless. They might as well put me in a trebuchet and hurl me northward.
My husband gave me my Mother's Day gift early - a wheelbarrow. Last year I got three cubic meters of dirt. He knows me well. Other men might scramble to take their wives to brunch, buy pearls, send flowers. But after 25 years of marriage, he knows - the best gifts to give me are things for the garden and books. Better yet, books about gardening.

Someone called me a treehugger once and I was taken aback. Is that how I'm perceived? How could I be a treehugger? I work in a big-city corporate office and use words like Strategic Priorities and Measurables and Deliverables. I don't even like Granola.

But then I go out to my garden and plunge my hands into that rich dark loam and smell the dampness from last night's rain. I lie with my head in the patch of lime mint and inhale all that goodness and freshness, and yes, I feel I could hug the earth. It gives us everything we need. It loves us. We put in a seed and get a hundredfold back. Where else can you get that kind of return on your investment? I go out in my garden and I'm overwhelmed with abundance. And I begin to understand grace.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Emergency Evacuation

We had a severe rainstorm the other night, and when I went out to check the rabbit burrow, it was vacated. Just a shallow depression in the ground with an inch of water in it. I found one baby rabbit under the hedge while I was weeding, but there's no sign of the other five.

Now I know rabbits have been breeding and raising their young successfully without my help for thousands of years. But I feel responsible for these little guys, you know? They're too young to be on their own - they're still nursing. How will Mama find them, scattered all over the yard? How will she call them together? Did they have a plan ahead of time for such emergencies? "If the burrow floods, we'll meet there." Just how organized are rabbits, anyway?

They are in the hands of the universe, I suppose, and there's nothing I can do but hope and watch. A vegetable gardener hoping the six bunnies survive? Well, of course. They are my children.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

An Eruption of Bunnies

The other night I was working in my garden, and a large wild hare hopped in to join me. She slipped inside a wire cage I've erected over my carrot patch (to keep rabbits out - obviously unsuccessful). And suddenly the ground erupted with little furry baby bunnies. There was a hidden burrow among my carrots. Smart girl to put it there, where the wire would keep out hawks and dogs. Mama stood spread-eagled while they nursed, a bemused look on her face. She didn't seem to notice me at all, where I stood with my mouth open.

I counted six babies. A couple of them lay on their backs to nurse, their hind legs sticking out from under her like mechanics working on a car. After a few minutes, Mama hopped casually away and the babies tumbled back into the burrow. Within minutes you couldn't see where they had been, not a clue left behind of their existence.

I am reconciled to doing without carrots this summer.